Green Drop Report proves sewage pollution is dire

Green Drop Report proves sewage pollution is dire

It’s time for municipal managers responsible for failed systems to face criminal charges

On 1 April 2022, the Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS) released the Green Drop Report, after a nine-year break since the last report. The Green Drop report is important as it evaluates the entire wastewater management system (, pumping, treatment, discharge) of processing the wastewater over a one-year audit period. It provided a snapshot of sanitation services in the country.

“While we welcome this release, it is concerning that only 23 wastewater systems qualified for Green Drop Certification compared to 60 systems in 2013. The reports prove the significant sewage pollution by municipalities as well as the poor state of sewage infrastructure and management.  The fact that the new DWS leadership is bold enough to publish these facts and committing to action is positive”, said Dr Ferrial Adam, OUTA WaterCAN manager.

The report provides a picture of sanitation at a national level as well as the performance of each province. It provides a clear analysis that can be used to focus on specific areas and municipalities. The audit covered 995 wastewater networks and treatment works, of which 334 (39%) of municipal wastewater systems were identified to be in a critical state in 2021, compared to 248 (29%) in 2013. The provinces of greatest concern are reported as Limpopo with 78% of its systems in critical state, followed by Northern Cape (76%), North West (69%), Free State (67%), Mpumalanga (43%), Eastern Cape (39%), Gauteng (15%), KwaZulu Natal (14), and Western Cape (11%).

“These percentages must also be assessed in terms of the quantity of water being affected,” suggests Adam. “For example, Gauteng seems to have only 15% in a critical state but if we look at just the Emfuleni municipality and the sewage spills into the Vaal River, the damage is enormous as the Vaal provides water to more than 15 million South Africans.”

The report highlights some of the key challenges including systems failing regulatory standards, failure to pay contractors and laboratories, vandalism, theft, and overall sub-standard quality of final effluent and biosolids that are discharged into the environment.

There is renewed energy and attention from the leadership in DWS as Minister Mchunu has committed to act against municipalities. “We think that he should go as far as charging municipal managers for sewage pollution under the National Environmental Act. We need all hands on deck to fix these dire problems and one or two municipal managers must go to jail to change the future of sewage management. Civil society will play a bigger role than ever to support the change and to expose and hold to account those who negligently pollute our scarce water resources.”

Sewage spillages and failing wastewater treatment works are detrimentally impacting our environment, our economy and the livelihood and health of people on a daily basis. It cannot be solved by government alone, and we call on civil society and citizen-science groups to be the eyes and ears to keep DWS to their promise of moving towards excellence.

A copy of the report is here.

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